Throw out the kitchen sink dramas!

by Kitty Felde

This past weekend was DC’s annual “Page to Stage” Festival. It’s a tremendous gift from the Kennedy Center to local playwrights. Every Labor Day weekend, the Kennedy Center opens up rehearsal rooms, the Millennium Stages, donor event rooms, every nook and cranny on every floor, to staged readings of plays by local writers. Imagine the Music Center turning us loose for an entire weekend!

This year also included a special seminar for writers given by Michael Bigelow Dixon, formerly the literary manager and associate artistic director at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Dixon wants us to stop thinking about conventional reality and play.

Reading hundreds of plays for the Humana Festival, he says none of the current batch included anything other than realistic plays – kitchen sink dramas, domestic conflicts, even those that got away from home and hearth and tackled international issues were still written in conventional, realistic fashion.

He wants us to dream and has written a book to spark our imaginations about making theatre THEATRICAL.

Why? Not just to get our plays noticed, but to attract a modern audience.

But how do you do this? Do we throw out everything we know about writing plays and reinvent the wheel? Not necessarily. Dixon has a few suggestions:

  • – Interruption: the “reality” of the stage play is interrupted by “real” life. How many audiences paid big bucks to see “Spiderman” for the play itself? More were there to see if a real-life event like an accident might happen. Is there a way to bring reality into our artificial worlds?
  • – Give the audience a choice: call it a gimmick, but from “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” to Alan Ayckbourn’s “Intimate Exchanges,” plays that let the audience choose its own ending are very popular. Is there a way to invite the audience to participate in the creation of your play?
  • – Anthropomorphize a character: put a talking animal on stage. Or a lot of them. Hint: there were WAY too many dog characters in our workshop.
  • – Interdisciplinary approach: try rewriting your play as a radio play – what do you have to eliminate? What do you have to add to make the audience understand what’s going on? Then rewrite it as a graphic novel. Then go back to the original script to add SOME of the elements.
  • – Ekphrastic drama – or what I call “dancing about architecture” – include other art forms in your work
  • – Distort time and space – ala Jose Rivera’s “Cloud Tectonics”
  • – Recontextualization – tell your story from someone else’s point of view. Think “Amadeus” and Salieri’s version of Mozart

Just a few thoughts to shake up your “realistic” world.
The book: “Breaking from Realism: A Map/Quest for the Next Generation” by Michael Bigelow Dixon and Jon Jory

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